British must move Trimble
``The political process can be saved but this will require a huge change of approach by London'' - Gerry Adams
Sinn Féin Chairperson Mitchel McLaughlin yesterday accused the Ulster Unionist Party leader, David Trimble, of setting the political process in Ireland on a ``course for collapse''. In a strongly worded statement, McLaughlin said that the onus now falls on the two governments, but particularly the British Government, to move Trimble away from his current position.
``We are currently facing the most serious crisis yet in the peace process,'' said McLaughlin. ``This crisis has been engineered by David Trimble and the Ulster Unionist Party and has been encouraged by the actions of the British Government over a long period. The British Government has a responsibility to protect the integrity of the Good Friday Agreement - so far, it has failed to do this.''
The Good Friday Agreement, McLaughlin said, requires that if the North/South Ministerial Council (NSMC) does not function as prescribed, then the Assembly itself falls.
``David Trimble's aims were set out in his letter of 26 October to Ulster Unionist Council delegates. These were first, to create a crisis, second, to suspend the political institutions, and finally to project the blame for all this on republicans.''
Significantly, Sinn Féin's Ard Comhairle on Friday authorised the party to initiate court action against the attempt to disenfranchise Sinn Féin by barring its ministers from the NSMC meetings. Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams announced the authorisation to take legal action after himself and Pat Doherty held talks on the current crisis with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in Dublin on Friday evening.
While the party says it will attempt to pursue the resumption of normal NSMC procedures through political means, it is prepared to take the legal action in the event of other avenues proving fruitless. The party is also considering taking legal action against Peter Mandelson, as under section 26 of the NI Act, the Secretary of State has the power to instruct a minister to take an action that is required to give effect to any international obligations.
On Tuesday, Sinn Féin announced that it is also to pursue a legal challenge to Peter Mandelson's decision to issue regulations on the flying of flags over Stormont. The party has rejected Mandelson's intervention as inimical to the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and as a blatant example of disregard for nationalist and republican concerns.
Gerry Adams said this week that he believes the crisis within unionism is holding the Irish people to ransom and has accused the British of allowing the crisis to arise.
``If the political institutions are to be saved, David Trimble must rethink his position. There is little that Sinn Féin can do at this time, except to defend the Good Friday Agreement and the rights of the electorate, in the face of serial demands on decommissioning, demands to change the remit of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, demands for a moratorium on policing, and the threat of another UUC meeting in a few months.
``The British Government has the crucial role. Mr. Trimble has developed his approach and painted himself into a corner because the British Government gave him the space to do so. From the beginning, by word and deed, the British Prime Minister Mr. Blair should have made clear his intention of speedily implementing the Good Friday Agreement. Instead London saw its role as the management of unionism.
``The political process can be saved but this will require a huge change of approach by London. I am not sure that the British Prime Minister is capable of this change at this time,'' Adams said.
For republicans, proof of whether or not Tony Blair is willing to implement the Good Friday Agreement will hinge largely on his handling of the final stages in formulating the Police Bill in coming weeks. Sinn Féin spokesperson on policing, Gerry Kelly, says that this issue will be crucial.
``The British Government can and must, even at this late stage, rectify this situation, if it genuinely seeks to honour the Agreement. To do otherwise will be to willfully reject the opportunity to deal with the policing issue, which is critical to society and to commitments made by the British Government and to the Agreement itself.''
On Wednesday, Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey travelled to London to deliver an extensive critique of the Police Bill, highlighting the shortfall between it and the Patten recommendations.